Somaliland president says contentious Ethiopia deal can deter Red Sea attacks

The contentious deal that Somaliland has struck with Ethiopia to lease a strip of land near the entrance to the Red Sea would help “secure freedom of navigation” for international shipping that has faced attacks around the vital waterway, according to the breakaway country’s president.

Somaliland, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991 but has failed in its long-standing quest for global acceptance, signed the accord in January that swapped access territory on the Gulf of Aden in return for formal recognition from landlocked Ethiopia.

But Somalia has vehemently opposed the deal, with its president declaring that “not an inch” of its territory would be signed away by anyone.

Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi told the Financial Times that the Ethiopia accord would “allow Somaliland to support international efforts to secure freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea”, where vessels have come under repeated assaults in recent months from Houthi rebels backed by Iran.

Ethiopia’s blueprint for the land around Berbera included a port and fleet that would help fend off maritime threats, he suggested. “Ethiopia will build a naval military base and have commercial ships and in exchange Ethiopia will give us recognition — that’s the basics,” said Bihi Abdi.

Bihi Abdi also said the deal was an important step to realising his self-declared nation’s dream of full independence. “The historic memorandum of understanding between Somaliland and Ethiopia will provide us with a clear pathway towards international recognition,” he said from Hargeisa, capital of the breakaway nation.

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